My Kind of Priest – Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko

Catholicism is also the merely the source of some of the holiest people who have ever existed. A holy person, a Saint is someone who practices heroic amounts of faith, hope, and love. While many of these Saints have remained nameless in history their presence will always affect the broad course of history. The Saints are like large stones in the midst of a river. Some of the stones are above the water and are visible, and some are underneath the water and are hidden. Their holiness does have an effect. The course of the river of history, religion, and culture is changed by their presence.

Although it is true that Jesus Christ was sent to the whole world, to bring the Good News to all peoples and nations, it must be recognized that he also had his own country here on earth. A particular country, with its own history, religion and culture. – Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko

Do not say, ‘How can a mere mortal change the course of events without armies?’ For God himself listens to the prayers of his people and accepts their sacrifices of their own suffering and pain without question. And it is these prayers and sacrifices which enable God to act in the course of human history as if he were leaning out of heaven and pushing his finger into history. These holy people are important.

Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko in front of GateOne of these holy people is Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. I am not surprised if you do not know his name. There is a vast fence of silence around how the people of Poland defeated Communism. There is a tacit agreement among respectable intellectuals both from America- and in France and Germany- to never give Poles credit for anything good. I know some of you have been taught that the Hero Reagan singlehandedly walked on water across the Atlantic Ocean and arm-wrestled the leader of the Soviet Union into submission. That is simply not true. You may have also been taught that expensive lasers in the sky so frightened the Soviet Union that they rolled over and surrendered. This is also not true.

The real story is that Poland was like a stone in the shoe of the Soviet Union. They couldn’t get rid of this stone, and they dared not take off the shoe and renounce state control of a nation in the center of their grids of police states throughout central Europe. Poland was the presence of populist anti-atheism in a police state that was proudly atheistic.

Poland was also like a massive stone twice as tall as a man in a frozen river. The frozen ice of Communism which had no human face or human heart would struggle against this stone but it could not be moved. On the contrary, when he temperature of human rights and sovereignty became warmer it was then in Poland that the roots of Catholicism began to grow. These roots in the ice of Communism started to crack the power of the Soviet Union.

What is important today is to claim with great courage the rights due to us ‘as a nation: the right to God, to love, to freedom of conscience, to our culture and to our national heritage~ A nation cannot advance into the future if it cuts itself off from its past and it should be remembered that the road upon which we have walked as a nation is a Christian road. It is unwise to sever the roots of a past lasting more than a thousand years. The tree without roots will soon be toppled over… – Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko

The Soviet Union knew that since their hold on Poland was weakest, it was a place they were most vulnerable. And once Poland broke free, it would put cracks in the Soviet Union civil power in the surrounding countries- East Germany, Czech, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. And once the Soviet Union lost hold of those countries it could no longer dominate Central and Eastern Europe. For decades they had maintained their frozen hold on human societies… until things began to change near the end of the millennium.

It was in the 1980’s that the warm winds of human rights and sovereignty and of peace and human dignity began to sweep across the world. The police states in South and Central America slowly began to wind down their violence as did the Soviet Union in Central and Eastern Europe. Civil society began to take the first steps towards a better and more just society. Meanwhile in Poland the struggle between the forces of the human heart and of a faceless police state continued. One of the human faces of this struggle was Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko.

You win people over with an open heart and not with a clenched fist. True knowledge, true wisdom, true culture do not tolerate chains. One cannot enslave a human mind. – Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko

Beginning

Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko PreachingJerzy Popiełuszko was born into a family of commoners and had many brothers. His mother pronounced on his destiny that he would be a Servant of God. He went to the seminary in Warsaw where he was soon drafted by the military. While in the military he was pushed physically to beyond his limits which broke his health. This was a deliberate decision by the leaders of the atheistic state which did all it could to interfere with Catholicism within the limits imposed on it.

Middle

Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko persevered despite his broken health. He was ordained by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski was one of the most visible leaders of the Catholic Church in Poland at that time and under his leadership it was how Bishop Karol Wojytla gained the seasoning and experience in his later papacy as John Paul II. They set the lead of holiness and strength and diplomatic finesse that later Priests including Fr. Jerzy Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko would be inspired by. Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko worked in several parishes throughout the 1970’s. He was then assigned to work with the students at St. Anne’s Church in Krakow in the late 1970’s- just as Fr. Karol Wojytla (later Pope John Paul II) had done several decades before.

End

In the early 1980’s he was assigned to St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Krakow. This was located in a hipster district. The power of his sermons began to attracting huge numbers of people- believers and unbelievers alike. He focused on the themes of truth, social justice, peace, and reconciliation. He began to celebrate Masses for the freedom of Poland. His church became so full that they had to stand in the streets outside of the Church. The Communist Government saw him as a threat. After arresting him, slandering him, and interrogating him they could not break his spirit. He was unafraid of power.

So the Communist leadership finally sent three low level agents who capturing him on October 19th beat and killed him. Many thousands of Poles attended his funeral and burial at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish. Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko through his life and death achieved a form of immortality and also that of a symbol for the peaceful return of Polish sovereignty.

Attendance at the Beautification of Fr. Jerzy He was remembered by all those in Poland who later successfully struggled for and achieved the freedom of their home land. Eventually more than a hundred thousand people would attend his beatification in Piłsudski Square in Warsaw. Archbishop Angelo Amato held the beautification Mass, and Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz (the right hand man of John Paul II) and Cardinal Jozef Glemp (the lead Polish Bishop in the 1980’s) was also there as well.

Let us therefore take care to preserve our spiritual independence; we must not be defeated by fear or external threats. – Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko

Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko Smiling

Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko died, but his memory and his example lives on. There are now  many Priests in Poland who have been inspired by the example of John Paul II and Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. How do you feel about the example set by Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko?

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